Billboards usually stay up at least a month, and often longer, depending on the contract between an advertiser and the ad company. A controversial ad placed in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City by the pro-life group Life Always lasted a whole week before the ad company took it down due to complaints of harassment towards the wait staff in the restaurant the billboard is attached to and the threats of protests by Al Sharpton and others.
The billboard shows a young black girl, Anissa Fraser, and the copy reads: “The Most Dangerous Place for an African American is in the Womb.” It is believed to have been placed, in part, because of Black History Month, and in part because recently statistics were released that showed that 60% of pregnancies among blacks end in abortion. It is located near a Banned Parenthood.
Anissa’s mother was also angry that the stock photo image of her daughter was used by the anti-abortion group. It is not clear whether the ad agency or the pro-life group picked the photograph. New York resident and professor Darcy Merritt thinks the whole idea of the ad is an atrocity. Press coverage did not report what Merritt thought about the high rate of black children being murdered in their wombs in New York.
Caffeinated Thoughts interviewed spokesman Hal Kilshaw, from Lamar Advertising in Baton Rouge, Louisiana about the billboard controversy.
Mr. Kilshaw admits that this was the first time a billboard had been removed once the copy had been accepted and the billboard placed. The policy makers at the company planning on meeting next week to determine direction for the future, but Kilshaw is confident that the company will continue to allow controversial billboards, as long as they are factually correct and not offensive. In the past, Lamar has accepted ads from Playboy, but denied some ad content from an Atheist group.
Here are highlights of the 12-minute interview*:
HK: “We have a policy about accepting copy from our clients that may be considered controversial. We think it’s important to realize our clients have an important first amendment right to express their point of view unless we think it is factually inaccurate or offensive we try to run it. And if they present some copy that we think may be problematic we work with them to change it, so we think it’s important to put up copy. We looked at this copy in advance, it fully complied with our policy and we decided to post it.
CT: We’re referring now to the anti-abortion billboard that’s in a black neighborhood in New York, correct?
HK: I don’t know that it’s a black neighborhood, I understand it’s in SoHo. I am not aware if that’s a black neighborhood or not to be honest with you.
CT: Tell me a little bit about that particular controversy and how that’s working out.
HK: Sure. We posted that copy I guess about a week ago, roughly. It was from a client that’s a pro-life organization. They presented the copy to us and we looked at their website. Apparently the abortion rate is higher among African Americans than it is in other ethnic populations, so we decided to go ahead and run the copy. We’ve gotten push-back from folks who are pro-choice. They don’t think its apparently okay for pro-life people to express their opinion. And we’ve got some push-back from folks who thought it was racist, but we didn’t think it was racist to present, you know, statistically verifiable information
CT: I understand the billboard has been taken down though, right?
HK: It came down last night, that’s correct.
CT: Why was it taken down?
HK: Our general manager got a call from not the person that issues us the space but has the billboard and said that some employees, the wait staff actuallyof a restaurant in the building where the billboard is, had been harassed, that concerned him. Then he understood there would be a protest today and he was concerned about, you know, further harassment of the folks in the area. It’s a public safety issue. In the interest of being careful and being considerate of the community in that area we decided to take it down yesterday.
CT: When there are billboards that are close to businesses do those businesses have a veto power…
HK: Of course, not
CT: It wasn’t the content, but the harassment and the protests?
HK: Not the protest itself, we are not concerned about protest, people certainly have the right to protest. That wasn’t the issue. We had harassment issues yesterday…In the abundance of caution our New York manager decided to take it down….A few years ago we were a little more sensitive to what we take and decline copy that was thought to be controversial….but our CEO says we’re not going to decline copy just because it’s controversial as long as it’s factually accurate and not in poor taste to take it.
CT: What about a heckle veto? What’s to stop someone from raising a little raucus…threatening to harass….
HK: Let me tell you, we are concerned about that because of this instance. We’ve never had an instance of that before that I’m aware of…. We’re gonna meet on it next week. We’ve got to develop a new policy….The situation in New York’s a little different than most places. This billboard was attached to the side of a building that had tenants….most places they are on a steel pole, forty or fifty feet above the ground.
CT: Did somebody make threats?
HK: No. The harassment made our manager nervous…We’ve never had anybody harass before…
CT: Knowing human nature, now you’ll have lots of people harass people about billboards….because it was successful.
HK: Absolutely, we are certainly concerned about that, that’s why we will address it in the near future…. If you want to call me back in a week, I’ll be glad to tell you what we decided.
*Complete audio is available upon request.
David is currently an adjunct instructor of Composition and Speech at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa. His wife and he have also owned a business selling antique and collectible postcards on eBay since 1999. David was an activist with Operation Rescue in the early 1990s. He is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, Iowa.
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